Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1980–1987 | Cite as

Does task sustainability provide a unified measure of subjective task difficulty?

  • David A. RosenbaumEmail author
  • Bill V. Bui
Brief Report


What accounts for the subjective difficulty of a task? It is easy to suggest ad hoc measures, such as how many individuals can do the task, how long it takes them to do it, how likely they are to complete it, how much attention it requires, and so on. But having such ad hoc measures may miss the point that it is possible to judge the relative difficulty of different kinds of tasks, suggesting that there may be a common basis for judging task difficulty. If there is such a common basis, it might be used to compare the difficulties of different kinds of task. We tested two hypotheses about what the common basis might be. One was that time serves this role. This hypothesis was attractive because time is amodal and previous studies have provided support for the hypothesis that time might be an index of task difficulty. The other hypothesis was new. According to the new hypothesis, the subjective difficulty of a task corresponds to its estimated sustainability. We obtained results consistent with the time hypothesis, but our data were less supportive of the sustainability hypothesis.


task switching or executive control timing subjective difficulty action 



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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

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